Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 25;   June 18, 2008: Coping and Hard Lessons

Coping and Hard Lessons

by

Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.

Some lessons seem hard to learn — or at least, we require several tries to learn them. We make some of the same mistakes repeatedly, or we invent whole catalogs of mistake variations. You can tell when you've met one of these situations, because you have a clear sense of whoops-been-here-before.

Oscar Wisting, a member of Roald Amundsen's party, and his dog team at the South Pole in 1911

Oscar Wisting, a member of Roald Amundsen's party, and his dog team in triumph at the South Pole in 1911. Hauling equipment in dog sleds was controversial at the time in the world of European polar exploration, even though Arctic peoples had been working with dogs in this way for millennia. In 1903-1905, Amundsen had led the first successful traverse of the Northwest Passage. It was during this expedition that Amundsen learned from the Netslik Inuit how to let go of the European beliefs about dogs, their limitations, and the rightness of working them in this way. Letting go of cherished beliefs is usually easier with help from those who have either never held those beliefs, or from those who have already made the leap. The latter is probably somewhat easier, because we identify more readily with those who have made the same journey of belief that we are undertaking. The photo is from Amundsen's account of his journey to the South Pole, The South Pole, (now available from Cooper Square Press, but originally published in 1913 by J. Murray). It also appears in Amundsen's autobiographical work, My Life as an Explorer (Doubleday, Page & Company, New York: 1927). The photo is part of the collection of the National Library of Australia.

Some of these hard lessons relate to coping with disappointments. Here are some examples.

  • Almost nothing goes the way it's supposed to go the first time. And usually not the second time, either.
  • When the available data conflicts with cherished beliefs, reconsidering those beliefs usually works better than clinging to them for dear life.
  • When the available data conflicts with other people's cherished beliefs, they sometimes reject that data, or adopt with very weak evidence (or none) new postulates to explain why the data doesn't really conflict with their beliefs. You can't control what they do.
  • Re-examine cherished beliefs periodically, even when there's no conflicting data.
  • When the available data conflicts with how you wish things were, try changing your wishes.
  • When what you desire absolutely requires sacrifices you're unprepared to make, you have to either change your desires or make those sacrifices.
  • When what you want for other people conflicts with what they want for themselves, it's wise (though usually difficult) to remember that they're in charge of their lives.
  • When what you want to say to someone will probably have explosive or hurtful results, it's usually (but not always) best to let it remain unsaid until you can find a gentler, safer way. If you can't find a gentler, safer way, you might have to take a chance, but one option is always silence.
  • When you disagree with someone, and he or she is unwilling or unable to discuss the matter reasonably, and you push ahead anyway, the chances of a good outcome are tiny.Re-examine cherished beliefs
    periodically, even when there's
    no conflicting data
  • When you're the lone dissenter in a group you're working with, and they no longer want to hear from you, that's their choice to make. Respect it.
  • When you no longer want to hear about something from someone who insists on making you listen, you must either accept that you will hear it again, or find a way to make him or her stop, or use the wondrous tool called "removal to a distance."
  • Very little of what you've achieved was accomplished unaided. Credit for your achievements is much more valuable when shared.
  • When your sense of fairness and right conflicts with what somebody more powerful wants, either make an accommodation, or move on, or become more powerful. Or some combination thereof.

And most important, when your sense of fairness and right conflicts with an outcome determined mostly by happenstance, remember that the Universe is more powerful than any of us. Go to top Top  Next issue: Unintended Consequences  Next Issue

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenlgvBaqnzJwocmkaaner@ChacNcoimmlqcJgiiVkJoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Don't start meetings on the hourMastering Meeting Madness
If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
A doorknobDoorknob Disclosures and Bye-Bye Bombshells
A doorknob disclosure is an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit. When we learn about bad news in this way, we can feel frustrated and trapped. How can we respond effectively?
The field of vision of a horseA Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided. Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Focus on the Question
When group decisions go awry, we sometimes feel that the failure could have been foreseen. Often, the cause of the failure was foreseen, but because the seer was a dissenter within the group, the issue was set aside. Improving how groups deal with dissent can enhance decision quality.
A tire reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, FloridaManaging Hindsight Bias Risk
Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Jeffrey Skilling, in a mug shot taken in 2004 by the United States Marshals ServiceComing May 23: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IX
An arrogant demeanor is widely viewed as a hallmark of the narcissist. But truly narcissistic arrogance is off the charts. It's something beyond the merely annoying arrogance of a sometimes-obnoxious individual. What is narcissistic arrogance and how can we cope with it? Available here and by RSS on May 23.
The end of the line for a railroad trackAnd on May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenguKTglxXiLlILzefner@ChacwcNvSegzyjtFUjvfoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Case
This Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Caseprogram outlines the steps necessary for deploying a program for rational management of technical debt. For many organizations, adopting a program for rationally managing technical debt entails organizational change. And unlike some organizational changes, this one touches almost everyone in the organization, because technical debt isn't merely a technical problem. Technical debt manifests itself in technological assets, to be sure, but its causes are rarely isolated to the behavior and decisions of engineers. We can't resolve the problem of chronically excessive levels of technical debt by changing the behavior of engineers alone. Technical debt is the symptom, not the problem. In this program we outline the essential elements of an effective business case for adopting a rational technical debt management program. But this business case, unlike many business cases, cannot be captured in a document. We must make the case not only at the leadership level of the organization, but also at the level of the individual contributor. Everyone must understand. Everyone must contribute. We explore five issues that make technical debt so difficult to manage, and develop five guidelines for designing technical debt management strategies for the modern enterprise. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.